A Diver's Mystifying Death
By Joe Haberstroh
THE GUY WAS ALIVE, and he had no right to
Dan Crowell swallowed his anger and quickly began formulating a
rescue plan as Jack Moulliett thrashed in the water a few feet away.
"Help!" Moulliett screamed. "I need air!"
Crowell, the Seeker's skipper, was back at the Andrea Doria with
a boatload of divers from Cincinnati. Two weeks had passed since the
death of Richard Roost. A month since Craig Sicola had died.
Down on the wreck, Moulliett's scuba mouthpiece and an air tank
had failed. So he sped to the surface in minutes, his lungs
struggling to adapt to the rapidly changing pressure. Normally,
divers take at least an hour to ascend methodically from 200 feet.
Crowell ordered two divers into the water with a set of fresh air
tanks for Moulliett. Using a computer mounted in the Seeker's
wheelhouse, Crowell calculated that Moulliett would have to stay in
the water for five hours to compensate for his dangerously fast
Then, he found a quiet corner of the Seeker, sat down and cried.
Dan Crowell, limp from fatigue and frustration, had finally cracked.
"What the hell are these guys doing?" he thought
"This guy was No. 3, and we pulled him through it, and then it
becomes apparent that he did something extremely stupid."
Crowell didn't cry for long that day. He set out to make it clear
to Moulliett just how disgusted he was.
How could Moulliett think he was ready to go diving on the Doria
with a dried-out old mouthpiece and a tank with a rotting seal? And
how had he managed to keep hold of his mesh goodie bag filled with
Andrea Doria china, even as he rocketed to the surface in a panic?
Crowell didn't let up.
Mouillett took it, but he wondered where Crowell got the gall.
"You lost two divers," Mouillett thought. "If
those divers would have kept their heads like I did, maybe they
would be alive."
AT 8 O'CLOCK the night of Aug. 3, Vince
Napoliello motioned for the other divers to huddle around an
equipment box on the dock.
Inside was what the men called a potato cannon, a crude mortar
fashioned of plastic pipe. It had an electrical switch and they
fired it up with hairspray. Vince also had packed the ammunition --
three bags of potatoes. Thus armed, the giggling men agreed, they
would launch an attack on the Sea Inn, a rival charter boat also
scheduled to be moored at the Andrea Doria the next day.
"Vince was definitely the comedian," said diver Emmett
As usual, over-the-top quotations from the film "Scarface"
threaded through the high-spirited chatter.
"First you get the money, then you get the power, then you
get the woman," they would say. Someone would produce Cuban
cigars, and they would mimic Al Pacino's absurdly theatrical Havana
At about 10:30 p.m., the Seeker sailed out of Lake Montauk and
into the open sea. Vince grabbed his cell phone and dialed the
number of his fiancee, Marisa Gengaro, a teacher who worked in
Manhattan and lived in a Jersey City high-rise.
"Be careful," Vince told her. "Don't take the PATH
train at night. Be careful walking the dog at night."
Typical Vince. He's groping around in flipped-over shipwrecks 200
feet under water, and he tells Marisa to be careful walking the dog.
But then, if she tried to do her eyeliner while he was driving, he'd
pull over until she was done.
"You be careful," Marisa said in her husky voice.
"I love you."
"Love you," Vince said. "The phone line's breaking
up. See you Thursday!"
For Vince and the other men, the Seeker and its three-day Doria
expeditions were tickets to a few days of relaxation. Vince worked
on Wall Street, Bill Cleary was a lawyer, Denis Murphy and Emmett
McDowell were police officers. Stocked with salty snacks and
nautical videos ("Das Boot," "The Deep"), the
Seeker's airy main cabin was the men's clubhouse, a place to tinker
with equipment and make fun of each other.
There were even high-school-style nicknames. Vince, who sometimes
loitered on the Seeker's deck in boat shoes and flannel pants, was
an easy target. "Yuppie," they called him.
He enjoyed a good life. During the week on Wall Street, he wore
Brooks Brothers suits and cuff links shaped like anchors. Whenever
he sent flowers to Marisa, he chose red roses.
THE BREEZE from the southeast refreshed
the divers on the Seeker as they climbed into black rubber suits.
Two hundred feet away bobbed the charter vessel Sea Inn. It was
loaded with divers, organized by Nick Caruso, training director at
Sea Dwellers, a shop in Hillsdale, N.J.
Caruso and Dan Crowell didn't like each other. They'd argued over
money a few years ago.
Crowell openly ridiculed Caruso's diving ability -- Caruso had
buddied with another diver, Matthew Lawrence, who was killed on the
wreck in 1992. Caruso, in turn, liked to say that "egos"
were to blame for the deaths aboard the Seeker.
Over on the Seeker that afternoon, Vince crouched on the bow,
making calls to his office at Legg Mason in Manhattan. He was tense
because the stock market was headed toward a 300-point drop. Vince
steered his clients to aggressive growth stocks, the roller-coaster
issues that carry high risk. The market's free fall hurt.
He also had to work the phone to address a margin call; the
plummeting market had left a client's portion of a stock purchase
short of cash, and that client had to be tracked down immediately.
Sometime after 3 p.m., Vince hung up the phone and went to the
Seeker's cockpit near the stern, where the divers buckled on their
equipment. He looked distracted to Cleary, but other divers said
Vince seemed fine.
Six feet tall and 180 pounds, Vince strapped on some 200 pounds
of gear, including five steel cylinders containing his breathing
gases. Vince's two main tanks, side by side on a stainless-steel
frame that resembled a hiker's backpack, held a blend of 17 percent
oxygen, 30 percent helium and 53 percent nitrogen.
A short steel pipe joined the tops of the two tanks. A black
knob, the "isolator valve," controlled the flow between
the two big cylinders. Most divers kept the isolator valve open.
That way, as they breathed underwater, the levels of gas drew down
equally in both tanks.
However, if one tank failed, a diver could shut down the valve
and breathe off only one side.
Vince also slung two smaller, bright yellow tanks at his side to
breathe on as he made his 65-minute ascent back to the Seeker. He
would rely on the tank containing 36 percent oxygen for the deepest
decompression stops. The other, filled with 80 percent oxygen, he
would use for those closest to the surface.
If divers breathe off the 80-percent tank when they're at 100
feet underwater, they might convulse because too much oxygen becomes
toxic at the higher pressure deep underwater.
Because it's so important for the Doria divers to breathe off the
correct tanks at the correct time, it's also essential that they
label them clearly. The divers mark each tank with the percentage of
oxygen the canister contains.
Vince had not labeled his tanks well that afternoon. It was not
like him, and it caught the notice of several men on the Seeker.
Diver Mike Wagner mentioned to Vince that the decompression tank
hanging from his left side was labeled 80 percent and the right-side
cylinder was marked "81.3%."
Vince assured him that the 81.3-percent bottle in fact contained
36 percent oxygen. He explained that he had used the tank on his
first dive of the day, when it actually contained 81.3 percent
oxygen, but he had diluted the blend to the proper 36-percent
Vince and Denis Murphy stepped off the Seeker at the same time,
John Moyer and Crowell went in 10 minutes later. Crowell lugged
along his video camera.
Vince and Murphy landed on the Doria just as Bill Cleary
approached the Seeker's anchor line to begin his ascent.
The three friends shared a light-hearted and ironic take on the
dangers they faced underwater. They all paused dramatically as they
drew together at the anchor line. Stare-down. After a few beats,
Murphy broke the silence.
"You OK?" he said to Cleary in a small, mock-fearful
Cleary erupted in laughter, and so did Vince.
"Yeah," Cleary said. "I'm OK."
Vince and Murphy swam to the garage-door-sized entry in the hull
known as Gimbel's Hole, blowtorched open in 1981 by treasure hunter
and underwater photographer Peter Gimbel. Once inside, they made
their way back to a stairwell and swam toward the ship's face-down
They approached a cracked-open closet, which appeared to them as
a diamond-shaped opening framed in jagged edges. Inside lay a
10-foot-long stainless steel rake another diver had fashioned.
Clouds of microscopic plankton settled around the two men as they
worked. The rake tinkled as Murphy pulled it through the muck.
Flashes of white gleamed through the swirling silt. It was china.
Murphy grabbed a celery plate, placed it into his goodie bag and
looked at his dive timer. It said they had been on the bottom for 12
minutes. The two men had planned a 20-minute visit to the wreck.
Suddenly, Vince reached up to Murphy's face and inexplicably
ripped the regulator out of his mouth. A column of air bubbles
exploded between them.
Murphy grabbed a back-up mouthpiece bungee- corded to his
equipment harness and slammed it between his teeth. Then, the
6-foot-1 weightlifter turned to Vince.
Like a rodeo rider taking hold, Murphy wrapped his right hand
around a strap on Vince's harness.
Six inches separated their faces.
Vince pointed at Murphy's back. Murphy didn't understand. He drew
his right index finger across his throat.
"You out of air?" he screamed through his regulator.
No answer from Vince.
"You out of air?" Murphy repeated. "You out of
air? You out of air?"
Vince shook his head furiously.
"No!" he shouted. "No, no, no, no!"
Vince's eyes were strangely calm. He again stabbed a finger
toward Murphy's back. Murphy worried that he had an air leak in his
There was only one thing to do. Murphy yelled one more time.
"Let's get the ----------- out of here!"
With Vince in the lead, they swam out of the wreck in one minute.
Then Vince headed aft.
But he was swimming the wrong way.
The Seeker's anchor line was in the opposite direction, shackled
to the bow of the Doria.
Maybe Vince was headed to the Sea Inn's anchor line, which was
tied in back there. But Vince passed within two feet of it and kept
Murphy stopped and grabbed the Sea Inn's line. He dropped down to
Murphy was perplexed but not overly concerned. Was Vince trying
to find the Seeker's anchor line? Topside, it was bad form to come
up on the wrong boat.
John Moyer and Dan Crowell appeared. Moyer signaled to Murphy:
Murphy gave him the OK sign, but he knew he needed to start
heading back up.